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In View Commentary: Establishing Officer BWC Buy-In

As the implementation of body-worn cameras (BWCs) continues in police agencies across the country, there appears to be an increase in acceptance of—and, in many cases, demand for—the technology by officers. Police recognize that BWC technology is here to stay and a majority of communities expect their police departments to adopt them. Still, officers and agencies do not uniformly embrace BWCs. Some officers do not readily “buy-in” to the need for and benefits of BWCs. This In View provides the perspectives of two BWC subject experts who come from different backgrounds—one a former police supervisor and one a current police sergeant.

Our Perspectives 

Many police officers feel that the recent climate and attitudes towards the police have changed because of highly publicized, controversial use of force incidents around the country. Police officers currently carry (and must be proficient with), far more equipment than they did just 20 years ago. BWCs represent another tool that a growing number of officers are now required to carry—one that some officers prefer not to have. Some officers feel that the current push for BWCs stems not necessarily from a goal of helping them to do their jobs better but a means to surveil how they do their jobs. It is important to understand how some officers may view BWCs only as a mechanism for supervisors (and others) to scrutinize their actions and look for bad behavior or policy violations (that would go undetected when not wearing a BWC). While these concerns are real, BWCs provide many benefits. BWCs are quite possibly one of the most beneficial tools that officers can have. Departments should recognize that while officers typically view a new piece of equipment (such as an electronic stun device) as helping them with their tactics and safety, some officers could have a different perspective when required to wear a BWC. One can argue that if BWCs had been introduced to policing at a time when societal support and understanding were more positive, all officers would have more readily embraced them. 

Whether you are a chief, a supervisor, or an officer, if you examine all the potential benefits associated with BWCs, it becomes difficult to understand why officers would not want to wear them. Some benefits include the following:

  • Officer safety
    • The presence and recognition of a BWC can influence and moderate civilian and suspect behavior.
  • Improvements and enhancements to training and teaching (internally and externally)
    • Use of force – Provides an additional opportunity to examine how force was used and if it was effective. BWCs also provide the ability to examine and discuss if other options may have been applicable.
    • Tactics – Ability to review and promote best practices with tactics for specific situations.
    • Communication – Ability to utilize footage to demonstrate effective communication approaches. Also, promotes how officer communication can de-escalate situations and provides a perspective on the officer’s demeanor and verbal skills.
  • Evidentiary value and benefits
    • Mechanism to support officer’s probable cause, and enhance prosecution charging decisions and the ability to show juries what occurred.
  • Transparency – The opportunity to proactively demonstrate good police work that media may not recognize.
    • Footage can show the vast complexities of the job and illustrate the nuances of everyday decision-making.
    • Footage can show how officers use discretion under varying, often complex, scenarios.
    • Multiple BWCs at a scene can show footage from different angles to demonstrate alternative viewpoints.
  • Positive impact on complaints
    •  There are many examples in which citizens made complaints against officers and the BWC footage supported the officers’ actions. Typically, the complaint ends immediately without a prolonged, stressful internal investigation.
  • Accountability
    • BWCs provide a mechanism to not only promote good police work but to identify those who need retraining or who should be disciplined (or fired).
    • Random audits can improve police-community relationships by demonstrating the willingness to hold officers accountable.

It is unfair to paint all police with the same brush when a very small percentage of officers engage in inappropriate conduct. However, this is the world police officers live in, and we hope that officers will accept BWCs as a mechanism for demonstrating the good work that they do every day. We believe that BWC implementation will bring with it strong emotional reactions from officers. BWCs are a means to demonstrate the vast decision-making responsibilities and discretion that officers exercise and provide the ability to challenge potential misconceptions relating to abuse of power allegations.

A supervisor’s role is to help officers succeed and improve. Chiefs, command staff, and supervisors should not just communicate and engage with their officers on why the department is choosing to establish a BWC program; they should provide officers and their unions the opportunity to contribute to the implementation and policy development. Departments and officers can collaborate on issues such as officer privacy concerns and supervisor review of footage, following the example of the Greensboro, North Carolina, Police Department and many other departments. When possible, supervisors should explain research on BWCs to officers so they understand the empirical outcomes of implementing a BWC program. Supervisors should communicate all the potential benefits and limitations of BWCs to the officers, and work to empower them to own and support the program. The development of this shared responsibility should be an ongoing process. Supervisors need supervision as well, and BWC policy needs to be clear on when and how supervisors will review the footage. Arbitrary retroactive review of BWC cannot be allowed once BWC footage has been reviewed through the proper channels.  For example, organizations should think about “double jeopardy” policies for BWC footage: once one member of the chain of command reviews BWC footage and deems it an appropriate use of force or appropriate use of courtesy, another member of the chain of command cannot review the footage and come to a different disciplinary outcome. These types of missteps in policy application reduce officer buy-in and weaken trust. Officers should be confident that once their BWC footage has been reviewed by their chain of command and internal affairs, a change in rank structure six months later will not reverse the previous decision. Leaders must apply fairness, common sense, and reasonableness when using BWC footage to train or discipline officers.

Finally, agencies should be cautious about devoting too much attention to officer “buy-in.” We have all heard the colloquialism that officers only hate two things, “change and the way things are.” It is human nature to resist change. Being forced to acquire a new skill is difficult. Buying in may come hard for some and it may not occur until the technology benefits the individual in a tangible way, such as having a complaint dismissed or the video being pivotal evidence in a court case. Until then, supervisors should ensure compliance with BWC policy through regular oversight, informally at first but more formally if noncompliance persists. An authoritarian approach will not help with buy-in, but following up on calls, checking to ensure officers turned on BWCs when they were required to, or complimenting officers on a job well done will go a long way to reinforce the use of BWCs during their daily routines. This is the key point—once a technology has been adopted into an officer’s daily routine, buy-in becomes a moot point; officers no longer think about the technology’s effect on their job, because it is just a part of their daily routine. Change is difficult and individual buy-in assists with organizational change. Officers in Chicago, Illinois protested new uniforms, equating them to milk delivery uniforms. Now officers take pride in their uniforms, wearing full regalia to promotional ceremonies. However, line officer buy-in is not always the only answer: good supervision and leadership go a long way, too.

 

In View Commentary: The Evidentiary Value of Body-Worn Camera Footage: A Survey of Prosecutors and Public Defenders

This In View Commentary examines the perspectives and attitudes of Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) and Public Defenders (PDs) about body-worn camera (BWC) footage. The study describes their views regarding several benefits and disadvantages of the use of BWCs in a court of law, specifically focusing on the context of time, expectations, and anticipated consequences. This is a summary of a larger report, which can be found here.

In View: Body-Worn Cameras in Collegiate Law Enforcement Agencies

Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have spread rapidly to municipal and collegiate police agencies across the country. The research and guidance on BWCs, however, has focused primarily on their implementation in municipal agencies. To date, only one study assesses their use in a collegiate setting.[1] Though collegiate agencies are similar to municipal agencies in many ways, there are important differences between a college campus setting and a traditional town, city, or county.

In View Commentary: Embracing Communication with the Public and Media: A Key Component of a Successful Body-Worn Camera Program

Officer-involved critical incidents often lead to turmoil and chaos for a community. They can leave officers feeling frustrated and even resentful of the perceived lack of support and leave citizens feeling angry and suspicious of their police department. While there is no easy fix for this type of divide, there are steps an agency can take to heal after such an ordeal or to prevent the conflict altogether. The foundation is holding good communication as a core value of your organization. Of course, good communication involves listening as well as messaging.

In View Commentary: Implementing a BWC Program in a Tribal Community

The Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Policy and Implementation Program (PIP) has awarded grants to seven tribal communities across the United States from 2015 through 2018, totaling just over $589,000. Grantee departments have used the funds to purchase approximately 405 BWCs. This In View spotlights the experience of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians Tribal Police Department (LTBB PD), Michigan.  The LTBB PD is a federally recognized Indian tribe that received a FY 2016 BJA BWC PIP grant.

In View Commentary: Community Voices On Body-Worn Cameras

Each jurisdiction and law enforcement agency that deploys body-worn cameras (BWCs) has a unique history, police culture, and circumstances. Community voices, like advocacy and faith-based organizations, police advisory groups, the media, social service organizations, and other community stakeholders, are important to consider when deploying BWCs. In some jurisdictions, these voices have provided the impetus for a program, scrutinized operations, and moved BWC policies in the direction of greater transparency.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department

In 2009, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) faced increased public scrutiny after a series of police shootings, many of which involved unarmed suspects. This concern led LVMPD to seek out US Department of Justice (DOJ) support to enact change. DOJ supported LVMPD in updating their policies, procedures, and training to better prepare officers to make decisions about the application of deadly force. Many members of the public were skeptical about LVMPD’s reporting of the facts about critical incidents that resulted in death. Many believed that incident descriptions written by police would nearly always justify the deadly force application. So, local advocacy groups recommended that, in addition to changing the agency’s use of force policy and training, LVMPD adopt BWCs. Consistent with recommendations that BWC programs be carefully implemented though pilot programs, an approach then being promoted by police organizations and DOJ, LVMPD elected to deploy BWCs in a limited manner to first test feasibility and effects before moving forward with wider deployment.

DOJ subsequently funded research by CNA, which incorporated a randomized experimental design, to assess the effects of BWCs on the number of citizen complaints and use of force incidents by officers. The research also addressed cost-benefit analysis. In 2017, CNA reported its findings, which revealed significant reductions in complaints against officers and use of force incidents. The study also pointed to reductions in the time and resources required to investigate and resolve complaints and use of force incidents for the officers wearing cameras. These reductions produced substantial cost savings for LVMPD.[1]

While community members found some comfort in these findings, many citizens still raised concerns about whether LVMPD sufficiently enforced camera activation during citizen encounters, especially those involving use of force. Gary Peck, representing the local chapter of the NAACP, praised LVMPD for its deployment and participation in the study but expressed specific concerns about how LVMPD was ensuring compliance with camera activation requirements.[2]

 In response to these concerns, LVMPD has aggressively addressed transparency concerns in its handling and release of videos. For example, LVMPD moves swiftly after a critical incident, often making video footage of a critical incident resulting in death available within 72 hours. A senior official, sometimes the sheriff, narrates the public release of the footage at a press conference, explaining the situation and providing context. This practice has some exceptions, but it is generally followed and is now a community expectation. This practice not only provides more transparency; it builds community trust. LVMPD officials believe this approach often provides the department the benefit of the doubt when questionable or controversial shootings occur. These steps have quieted community concerns and changed public expectations.

Albuquerque Police Department

The Albuquerque Police Department (APD) began using BWCs in 2010, encouraged in part by community voices advocating for police reform. Chief among community concerns were perceptions of inappropriate use of force, especially toward mentally unstable and homeless populations. APD became one of the first major police departments to deploy BWC technology. In 2012, the department issued special orders requiring all officers to activate their BWCs during citizen encounters. In early 2015, local advocates continued to raise concerns about the consistency of BWC use by officers. That same year, researchers from the University of New Mexico studied the program’s implementation.[3] They concluded that officers were confused by the BWC policy and that there were uneven patterns in camera activations for citizen encounters.

In September 2015, the Bureau of Justice Assistance awarded APD a $250,000 BWC grant, which allowed the department to update its technology and revise its BWC policy.[4]

In 2016, media reports suggested that APD staff tampered with video footage, raising concerns about the integrity of APD-provided video footage.[5]  APD later issued a report indicating that there was no evidence that original footage of any critical incident was altered, but it was inconclusive as to whether copies distributed to others were altered. This report did little to restore community confidence.

Following a change in administration and the appointment of a new chief of police, the department renewed efforts to enhance community engagement. Today, APD is revisiting its BWC policies to expedite video release when possible. Albuquerque’s six Community Policing Councils, covering each of APD’s command areas, are being encouraged to provide input to these revised policies as well.

Chris Sylvan, who coordinates community outreach efforts for APD, said, “Most residents are now very supportive of the body-worn camera program and question more and more why the local sheriff’s department and suburban jurisdictions don’t require their officers to wear them.”

Community voices in Albuquerque will likely continue to serve in a “watch dog” role in the APD’s BWC program and will help shape future policy to enhance transparency.[6]

Conclusion

The examples presented here illustrate the journeys of two departments with BWCs. Every department’s journey is different, but there are some commonalities. Community concerns usually focus on compliance with activation requirements, timing of the release of video footage for critical incidents, and the overall integrity of the program operations. Studies in these and other jurisdictions suggest that communities tend to support BWC deployment and expansion, particularly when community input is sought and considered. Insights from the APD and LVMPD deployments, findings from the 2017 Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) study[7] on community perceptions of BWCs, and other works suggest the following:

  • Community voices often play a major role in the impetus for BWC programs and often provide continued support during ongoing operations.
  • Community voices can play a “watch dog” role and sound alarms when the BWC program implementation is out of alignment with program goals and community considerations.
  • Community voices can play a meaningful role in shaping BWC policy by offering citizen perspectives and building public support.
  • Community voices can be called upon for specific input on privacy parameters, guidance for video release, and the policies and rules for emerging related technologies (e.g., drones).
  • Community voices generally support BWC programs, but they do not view these programs as panaceas for broader police performance and trust issues.
  • Police should embrace the community as a valued partner in the planning, implementation, and ongoing management of BWC programs.

In View Commentary: Releasing BWC Video to the Public: Policy Implications

In April 2018, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and its civilian-member Board of Police Commissioners made a major change to its body-worn camera (BWC) policy: the department will release video footage in ”critical incidents.”

A year in the making, the new policy applies to: 1) officer-involved shootings, 2) a use of force leading to death or serious injury, 3) all in-custody deaths, and 4) any other police encounter for which releasing the video is in the public interest. The department will release footage within 45 days of the incident. The policy includes protections for juveniles and victims of specific crimes, defines privacy considerations, takes into account the safety of officers and witnesses, and protects the integrity of active investigations, confidential sources, and constitutional rights of the accused.  

The draft policy can be found here. LAPD has released critical incident BWC footage under this new policy. An article regarding this footage can be found here.

What are the ramifications for the LAPD and for the rest of the country with this shift in policy? Will it create problems for ongoing investigations? Will it improve the perception of transparency and accountability? Does it violate the right to privacy? Does the policy go far enough—or too far? How will we know if it is effective? Definitive answers to these questions will not be known for some time, but the questions are important to the police, the public, and policies that are being drawn up and followed throughout the country.

 

Will the release of video footage create problems for on-going investigations?

It is possible that the release of footage could create problems for investigations, but not to the degree that police think. The release of information to the public about a critical event often raises concerns because police and prosecutors fear a “trial in the media” or fear that people will be biased against a suspect or an officer and thus make it difficult to seat a fair and impartial jury, but these fears do not always manifest themselves and are hard to quantify. In a courtroom setting (if a case is filed), voir dire allows for questioning of potential jurors about their biases and preconceptions.

Further, video footage is only one facet of an investigation of an officer-involved shooting or other critical event. Many other parts of the investigations need not be released. For example, the department may be informed more by eyewitnesses and statements from bystanders and the officers involved, there might be more extensive physical evidence, and there could be other factors in an incident that remain closed to the public.

Video footage may not—and probably will not—tell the full story of a critical event. The camera does not see everything that an officer sees. The location of the camera (on the officer's chest, shoulder, or sunglasses), and the officer’s position during an event, determine what the camera will capture. People, houses, or vehicles to the left or to the right of an officer may not be videotaped because the officer did not turn in that direction. The lighting could be poor; the sound could be inaudible. Thus, other evidence provides important context for what happened and why.

Will it improve the perception of transparency and accountability?

It should, because it addresses critical incidents—those that the public has the most concerns about. The impetus for equipping police officers with BWCs burgeoned following the tragic events of Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, 2014. At the time, BWCs were touted as the means to promote greater transparency and a basis for building trust between the police and the community. This rationale created expectations that police departments would release BWC footage immediately after a critical event, such as an officer-involved shooting.

But we soon learned that it is not quite that simple. There are implications relative to public interest versus the judicial process of adjudicating an incident, all of which are surrounded by the need for privacy considerations and the need to solve cases. Prosecutors and the police were wedded to the notion that if there is a pending criminal investigation, all bets were off relating to the release of what was considered evidentiary material, but this perspective has changed. Police agencies and officers are more accustomed to using cameras and reviewing footage after making arrests. Further, they are seeing the positive results of the presence of cameras as civilian complaints and uses of force decline.

The release of footage for critical incidents appears to be a part of the evolution of the acceptance of BWCs and, more importantly, suggests that transparency and accountability are perhaps more important than evidentiary considerations. San Diego Deputy District Attorney Damon Mosler provides a prosecutor’s perspective on the evidentiary value of BWC footage in a separate In View Commentary.

Does the policy violate the right to privacy?

It appears that the answer is ”no,”’ as the policy protects individuals including officers, bystanders, and witnesses. There should always be certain protections afforded to the individuals involved, including the officer and his or her family, the victims or survivors of a police incident, those who are willing to come forward as witnesses, and those who are inadvertently involved. Technology that effectively redacts video and audio, while not perfect, is available and can protect individuals. By limiting the release of footage to critical incidents, rather than all encounters, the need to redact every frame for every incident is not an issue. The chances of a person being identified through voice or sight are considerably reduced.

Does the policy go far enough—or too far?

To some, the policy does not go far enough. To others, it goes too far. Some advocates want all video footage released regardless of its importance or value. The argument here is for total transparency, granting the public the ability to hear, see, and assess the behavior of all police officers in every encounter. Others strongly hold to the belief that investigations and privacy should not be compromised or outbalanced by transparency and accountability; releasing video will lead to cases “lost” and privacy diminished.

Releasing all video places massive burdens cities and police departments. The technology supporting review, redaction, and release of video has not caught up with the proliferation of videos; as a result, reviewing, redacting, and releasing all footage is an extremely labor-intensive and costly enterprise that has not been accounted for in the staffing and budgeting patterns that support BWCs. Consider that at a single critical event, 50 or more videos may be recorded and would need to be addressed.

How will we know about the effectiveness of the policy?

Effectiveness is measured in terms of implementation and impact, and through rigorous research. While protocols for implementation have not yet been written, this step is critical. We will see what happens as the LAPD rolls out an implementation plan.

“Upon further review…”

Of the five largest police departments in the country, the LAPD is the first to lay out specific guidelines for releasing video footage for critical events. The policy reads: "It is the policy of the Los Angeles Police Department that video evidence in the Department's possession of critical incidents involving LAPD officers be released to the public within 45 days of the incident."

When we compared LAPD's policy to those of the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Houston police departments, we found that the LAPD policy goes further in defining critical incidents, video sources, privacy protections, notifications of persons who are in the video, and date of release. In the largest departments—New York and Chicago—release of video footage is dependent upon the type of incident and Freedom of Information Act requirements (New York) or state law (Chicago). In both jurisdictions, individuals may request footage, but there are specific requirements for obtaining the footage. In a high-profile case, the New York Police Department and Attorney General will confer about its release, but there is no mandate for release of video footage. The Brennan Center shows the breadth of policies regarding the release of video.

The LAPD policy could serve as a model for other large agencies, but its ramifications need to be carefully studied. Answering these empirical questions would significantly further our understanding of transparency, accountability, and privacy.

In View: BWC Community Education and Creating Reasonable Expectations

As more and more police agencies across the country implement body-worn camera (BWC) programs, many feel that it is just a matter of time before this relatively new technology becomes an expected norm for the police. BWC programs have already demonstrated that implementation and outcome expectations are far more complicated and challenging than initially expected. It is difficult to identify another technology or tool that police have adopted which comes with such heightened public expectations and scrutiny. For example, compared to a department’s introduction of an electronic control device, a new caliber of firearm, or an improved records management system, the public clearly has more significant interest in and expectations of BWCs. However, most of the public and media likely lack a comprehensive understanding and appreciation about the limitations of BWCs. Some in the public who express distrust of the police may hope that BWCs will, “hold the police accountable like never before,” while at the same time there are many police officers who are eager to implement BWCs in hopes that they make clear the daily challenges, responsibilities, and decisions that officers face. Both perspectives are fair and may prove to be correct, and the police are in an excellent position to educate their communities about the complexities and realities of BWCs.

Lessons learned from the Bureau of Justice Assistance BWC Policy and Implementation Program show that some police leaders, in hindsight, wish they had been more assertive in educating their communities and local media about the limitations of BWC footage, as well as the effects on their agencies’ resources from requests for footage. Some departments found that they could have easily curtailed an initial onslaught of media requests for all footage by describing their states’ Freedom of Information Act laws, their departments’ BWC procedures and policies, as well as their agency’s capacities and limitations in responding to requests. Departments around the country have created community and media forums to provide education on use of force, reasonable suspicion, probable cause, traffic stops, and other issues to provide a better understanding of officers’ actions, responsibilities, and decision making. BWCs should be no different. The challenge of police outreach is determining the best means to reach the target audience. Often, police forums and meetings have the same people in the audience over and over again. Police should identify mechanisms and strategies that can effectively reach communities and neighborhoods with people who do not typically attend or respond to police outreach. The following are some suggestions for how to conduct public outreach and education about BWCs.

Police agencies must be prepared to discuss the complexities of their BWC program, even prior to implementation.

“The challenge is that most aren’t adequately informed or prepared to discuss the complexities of a BWC program when they haven’t yet moved in to the technology.” Captain Dan Zehnder, Las Vegas Police, BWC subject matter expert

Considerations for Educating the Community and Media on BWCs

  • Establish a proactive approach to provide your community and media detailed information and expectations about your BWC program.
  • Determine the best approach to reach your intended audiences, including the following examples
    • Social media
    • Police newsletters
    • Press conferences and news releases
    • Radio spots
    • Community forums
    • Directed officer outreach
    • Command staff and officers attend community meetings
  • Develop a specific plan to demonstrate the BWC program’s capabilities and limitations. Some examples include the following:
    • Educate the public that BWC footage will not tell the entire story of every police call.
    • Point out that a citizen viewer of BWC footage may misunderstand the threat or risk of physical harm, and that human nature often results in unfair second guessing and questioning.
    • Point out officers’ training, experience, and knowledge are critical factors in how they approach their calls and that BWC footage does not provide this comprehensive background.
    • Provide examples where BWCs fail due to environmental factors.
      • The camera may not capture an incident due to reasonable situational factors such as limited lighting, becoming dislodged during a confrontation, or mechanical failure. Such a situational failure should not be equated with officer deception or misconduct.
      • Reasonable circumstances, such as an immediate emergency, can contribute to the officer being unable to activate the camera.
    • Clearly describe your policy and procedure for BWC footage requests.
      • Note that privacy considerations should be factored into all releases.
    • Educate the community on your resources and capacity limitations in responding to requests.
      • Mention storage limitations, redaction needs, and personnel limitations.
  • Recognize that watching any officer’s use of force is most likely going to prompt an emotional reaction by viewers—this does not mean the force was unreasonable. It is important to identify and highlight this reality when educating others on viewing footage.
  • Assign an agency go-to BWC subject matter expert (SME). Police have experts in tactics, evidence, investigations, and training; establishing an internal BWC expert can prove equally beneficial.
    • The SME should be available to respond to questions on videos that are released to the public.
  • Identify key stakeholders, such as prosecutors and community leaders, and enlist their support and assistance with community outreach and BWC messaging.
  • Conduct proactive outreach.
    • Develop talking points and answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). Then incorporate that material into regular civic, community, and neighborhood watch meetings. Target the meetings that generally have large turnouts. By developing the material ahead of time, multiple commanders can handle the same topic with a consistent message at different meetings. 
    • Hold a Facebook town hall meeting so people can learn remotely.
    • The chief or sheriff should make direct outreach with any media in the jurisdiction. This sets a tone of openness and inclusiveness that will eventually make it into the news coverage of BWCs, and this openness will earn good will, which is invaluable during a crisis. The chief or sheriff must be prepared to answer all questions in a productive way and set a collaborative tone.
      • Establish social media forums where citizens can participate in question-and-answer sessions on BWCs.

Police communications expert and former public information officer Laura McElroy recommends identifying and targeting outreach to your most challenging audiences: “Either invite your loudest critics to the department for a discussion or go to them and meet on their turf. This is an important step for showing critics that the agency values their input and wants to work out solutions as a team.”

  • Push out BWC footage that you want the public to see, including the following situations:
    • Officer engagement with community
    • Officer decision-making
    • Officer demonstrating use of force de-escalation
    • Officer solving a crime or arresting dangerous suspects
  • Recognize that BWC outreach needs to be a continuous, ongoing effort.

Conclusion

There are many benefits to being proactive in educating the community and the media about reasonable expectations of BWCs. One of the biggest potential benefits may come when an agency has a significant incident, such as an officer-involved shooting, and its earlier outreach has helped to establish reasonable expectations. This communication can avoid a great deal of confusion, criticism, and stress for both the organization and the community. This article focused on community and media education, but these suggestions also apply to outreach to local government officials.

Resources

Video – Body Worn Cameras Explained

Video – University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Police

Video - Cleveland Police Seek Public Opinion on Body Worn Cameras

Video - Body Camera Video Shows Sacramento PD De-Escalate Man with Mental Illness

 

In View: Key Trends in Body-Worn Camera Policies

The CNA Corporation, Arizona State University (ASU), and Justice and Security Strategies (JSS) provide training and technical assistance (TTA) to law enforcement agencies that have received funding for body-worn cameras (BWCs) through the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) BWC Policy and Implementation Program (PIP). Administrative policy review is a central feature of TTA. The TTA team developed a BWC policy review process to assess the comprehensiveness of BWC policies through a BWC Policy Review Scorecard
 
Because the policy review process assesses comprehensiveness only and is not prescriptive, agencies vary in the way they deal with specific key issues. We recently completed an analysis of the BWC policies for 129 police agencies (covering 54 agencies funded in FY 2015 and 75 in FY 2016). Our analysis examined variation across five dynamic areas: activation, deactivation, citizen notification, officer authority to review, and supervisor authority to review. We examined two additional issues for FY 2016 sites only: camera wearing during off-duty assignments and activation during public demonstrations. The full report can be found online here.  
 
We identified 17 key BWC policy trends across these 7  policy considerations. They are listed below.
 
 Activation
(1) All agencies mandate and prohibit activation for certain types of encounters. No agency allows full officer discretion on BWC activation.
(2) Most agencies (60 percent) allow for discretionary activation under certain circumstances.
 
Deactivation
(3) All agencies provide guidance for BWC deactivation. However, officer discretion is more common for deactivation than activation.
(4) Officer discretion in the deactivation decision is more common in the policies of FY 2016 agencies. 
 
Citizen notification
(5) Less than 20 percent of agencies mandate citizen notification of the BWC. 
(6) About 40 percent of agencies recommend, but do not require, citizen notification of the BWC. 
(7) Mandatory notification is less common in the policies of FY 2016 agencies. 
 
Officer authority to review
(8) Nearly all agencies allow officers to review BWC footage for routine report writing.
(9) Less than 30 percent of agencies allow officers unrestricted access to BWC footage during an administrative investigation.
(10) After a critical incident, more than 90 percent of agencies allow officers to review their BWC footage prior to giving a statement. 
 
Supervisor authority to review
(11) Nearly all agencies permit supervisors to review BWC footage for administrative purposes, such as investigation of citizen complaints and use of force. 
(12) Most agencies give supervisors authority to review line officers’ BWC footage to determine compliance with BWC policy and procedures. Nearly all FY 2016 agencies (93 percent) allow for BWC policy compliance checks by supervisors.
(13) Most agencies give supervisors authority to review line officers’ BWC footage for general performance evaluation. Nearly all FY 2016 agencies (93 percent) allow supervisors to access BWC footage to assess officer performance. 
 
Off-duty assignment (FY 2016 only)
(14) The majority of FY 2016 agencies (69 percent) do not address BWC use during off-duty assignments.
(15) Twenty-eight percent of FY 2016 agencies mandate BWC use among officers on off-duty assignments.
 
Activation during demonstrations (FY 2016 only)
(16) The majority of FY 2016 agencies (71 percent) do not address BWC use during public demonstrations.
(17) Just under 20 percent of FY 2016 agencies require activation and recording during public demonstrations.
 
Though our sample may not be representative of police agencies nationally, the report provides insights into trends in key policy areas, as well as some benchmarks for agencies involved in BWC policy development and assessment. This analysis reinforces the idea that BWC policy should be responsive to local circumstances, as well as the needs of local stakeholders. Moreover, BWC policies should continue to evolve as evidence from research emerges, as states weigh in with policy requirements, and as BWC technology changes.  
 
 

In View: What Have We Learned from The BWC Implementation Program So Far?

In FY 2015, the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) funded the Body-Worn Camera (BWC) Training and Technical Assistance (TTA) program to help police agencies and communities implement their BWC Policy Implementation Program (PIP) initiatives and learn lessons from those initiatives for the benefit of other agencies and communities. Since then, the BWC TTA team has responded to over 200 TTA requests, conducted 15 webinars, held 3 regional meetings and 2 national meetings, developed new technical assistance resources, and provided direct technical assistance to over 176 law enforcement agencies across the country.

Through this work, the BWC TTA team has gained a deeper understanding of the complexities and challenges agencies face when implementing a BWC program. Below, we review some of the lessons learned from our BWC PIP agencies over the past two years. These lessons learned should serve as important considerations for agencies just beginning or in the midst of BWC implementation.

1. Have a plan.

As with any new equipment deployment or substantial policy change, agencies must operationally plan how to roll out a BWC program. Planning should be thoughtful, comprehensive, and collaborative, and the plan should include several key factors: identifying program goals, establishing a timeline for deployment, conducting pilot tests, establishing working groups with internal and external representatives, conducting fiscal reviews and preliminary meetings with external stakeholders, reviewing related state legislation, determining staff and technology infrastructure needs, and more (see the BJA BWC Toolkit for guidance on getting started with a BWC program). This planning is fundamental to the implementation process.

2. Be flexible.

Although planning is vital to the successful deployment of BWCs, BWC PIP agencies also stress the importance of remaining flexible throughout the entire implementation process. Plans will change, new state legislation may require policy changes, fiscal changes will occur, equipment may not be as interoperable as promised, and challenges in establishing the infrastructure to support the program will arise. Agencies must be ready to adapt to these uncertainties.

3. Engage internal stakeholders.

Many of the BJA BWC PIP agencies have noted the importance of engaging officers early in the process. Officers should be part of the policy development process, the pilot testing phase, and training development. Actively engaging officers early in the process ensures greater buy-in for the BWC programand greater overall likelihood of success. 

4. Engage external stakeholders.

 BWC programs must also engage external stakeholdersfrom the community, as well as local government and criminal justice partners such as the prosecutor, city manager, and representatives from the local court system. These stakeholders are essential to the success of the program. Agencies should engage them in the process from the very start.

Agencies seeking to implement BWCs should hold multiple meetings with the community to leverage partners such as the NAACP, ACLU, and victims’ advocates. BWC PIP agencies note the importance of seeking input from the community in the policy development phase and being transparent about each phase of the deployment process. Some agencies have tried various methods (e.g., postcards, online surveys, town hall meetings) to inform, engage, and gather input from their communities.

Greensboro Police Department Body-Worn Camera FAQs Card

Criminal justice stakeholders are also vital to a BWC program. Prosecutors are, in many ways, an end user of BWC video. Agencies must work closely with prosecutors to create procedures for efficiently and responsibly transfering and sharing BWC video. Prosecutors and police agencies are beginning to understand the effect BWC footage can have on investigations and prosecutions. Working closely with these partners while implementing BWCs results in better processes and fewer challenges with program management.

Featured webinar: Beyond Arrest: Prosecutor and defense attorney perspectives. Click here to view the webinar

5. Train.

According to the BWC PIP sites, training is integral to ensuring that officers understand the policy and technology. Training should include related state legislation, how to activate, when or when not to activate, how to catalogue and tag videos, reporting requirements, the limitations of the camera technology, and departmental compliance and auditing.

Furthermore, agencies should consider using BWC footage for training. Agencies like the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, the San Antonio, Texas Police Department, and the Sturgis, Michigan, Police Department frequently use BWC footage to showcase best practices and areas for improved tactics and decision-making skills.The BWC TTA team developed a Training Guide as a resource for law enforcement agencies seeking to develop or modify their BWC training programs. The  guide provides police instructors with a standardized BWC training template that includes an introduction to issues surrounding the development of BWCs, BWC specifications and operations (which vary by vendor), key issues in policy and practice, and topics related to agency accountability.

Agencies should also consider including community representatives in these training sessions or conducting separate training sessions for the media and public. Not only will these sessions encourage transparency and community buy-in, they will also serve as a means for the public to get an up-close look at how police use BWCs in the field.

Featured webinar: A Spotlight on BWCs and Training. Click here to view the webinar

6. Engage with a research partner.

Though working with a research partner is not a PIP requirement, many funded agencies have engaged with research entities to conduct process evaluations, impact evaluations, or both. Research partners can be a valuable resource during program planning, implementation, and ongoing program management. They can also independently and rigorously assess the BWC program.

7. Audit.

Finally, BWC PIP agencies stress the importance of auditing BWC footage. Once BWCs are deployed, agencies should periodically review and audit videos to ensuring officers use BWCs according to departmental policy. BWC footage can also be used to evaluate performance, highlight training opportunities, and identify areas for department-wide policy and procedure changes.

Featured webinar: Considering The Issues Around Assessing Officer Compliance. Click here to view the webinar